DHS Commission Approves Modified Settlement Agreement - NewsOn6.com - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - KOTV.com |

DHS Commission Approves Modified Settlement Agreement

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Governor Mary Fallin meets with legislative leaders last Wednesday. Governor Mary Fallin meets with legislative leaders last Wednesday.
TULSA, Oklahoma -

A three-year legal battle has finally come to an end. The state will settle a federal class action lawsuit against its child welfare agency.

This lawsuit has cost the state more than $6 million over the last three years. And this settlement sidesteps the federal trial that was supposed to start next month.

A child advocacy group, Children's Rights, teamed up with a Tulsa law firm to sue DHS in 2008. Their basic claim was that the state wasn't protecting the children in foster care from further harm.

The state fought this lawsuit for the last three years, but two weeks ago the DHS commission decided to settle. The settlement agreement needed the approval of the state's top lawmakers, including Governor Fallin.

Read the Charmen's Statement

They tweaked the agreement, so it needed to go back to the DHS commission and Children's Rights for a final ok. The commission voted 6 to 3 to accept the settlement and Children's Rights also signed off on it.

The settlement agreements calls for DHS to meet certain standards and outcomes. A panel of three child welfare experts from outside of the state will make sure that DHS is meeting its goals for the next four years.

Read Current Key Provisions of the Settlement Agreement

DHS Director Howard Hendrick said he wants to add more non-kinship foster homes and more therapeutic foster homes for children with behavioral problems.

Hendrick also says he wants to pay foster parents more. The settlement agreement also says DHS needs to address caseloads for child welfare workers, regular visitation by caseworkers, and the number of placements foster children experience.

"Things that cost money. We've had a lot of reform over the years, but we haven't had the money to make a lot of the other improvements that we'd like to make," Hendrick said.

If DHS makes adequate progress by 2016., the state will be released from the settlement. If they don't, it will continue.

The panel's decisions will be entered as judgments of the court and can be enforced by the plaintiff's lawyers.

Now DHS has about two months to come up with their reform plan.

12/29/2011 Related Story: Oklahoma Board Recesses Meeting On DHS Lawsuit

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